Pastor Rob McCoy’s church, GodSpeak Calvary Community Chapel, was opened for communion in compliance with CDC safety standards. The sancturary, which was designed to hold over 400 members, was converted to a space that would hold only 10.
This story is uploaded from our May 2020 print issue.
“The government has no right to do what they’re doing—none—there has to be pushback.”
The Conejo Guardian: The State of California has defined religious gatherings as “non-essential.” Yet you recently defied a government order by holding Communion at your church. Is Governor Newsom’s directive wrong?
Rob McCoy: Yes. California’s directive was wrong. It was wrong because one can’t arbitrarily decide what is essential and nonessential.
Now, Gov. Newsom is actually doubling down on his directive—he is saying it will likely be ‘months’ before churches and synagogues can reopen.
The Guardian: You resigned from the City Council after you held that Communion service, because you wished to avoid embroiling the City in controversy. Any comments?
Rob McCoy: Since that event, I have actually received more correspondence than ever before in my entire political career—including during my time as Mayor, and my time dealing with the Borderline tragedy, and during the California wildfires.
Some people tried to define what my motivations were, but I would simply say this: the state infringed upon our constitutional rights, and I stood in defiance of that order, in order to protect all the citizens of this community.
If you have anger towards me because of my faith, or for believing that religious gatherings have a vital role in our community life, I would say this: I am not just defending my own rights. I also stand to defend yours.
The picketers that were there protesting the Communion service that day — they, like the church, were practicing what the State would consider a nonessential activity. But I stand in defense of their First Amendment right to protest me.
Here is how the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
We are “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights,” and “unalienable rights” means that you can’t give them away and they can’t be taken away.
In a pluralistic society, we must stand together to protect these rights. We must make clear to our elected officials that their power is “on loan” from us, the people. They have no right to abuse the Constitution, and the community has to push back. In our lifetimes, we have never seen our government tell the church that it is not permitted to open.
We never really realized what we had, until we lost it. And if the pulpits are silent and the people are apathetic, we will lose our freedoms.
The Guardian: Any thoughts on the economic shutdown?
Rob McCoy: We’re all trying to navigate an event that has never happened in the history of our nation—let alone the world. An entire lockdown!
It’s starting to appear now that the treatment of us by our leaders is doing far more harm than the virus. Calls to the Crisis HotLine have risen by almost 900%. The financial, psychological, and emotional toll on our community is becoming ever more apparent.
We are not trapped in a binary choice of choosing between either physical or financial health. The deaths so far in the County (17 as of this writing) are tragic to be sure; but at the same time, we can’t level financial devastation upon ourselves. We must have a balanced approach.
The Guardian: The Wall Street Journal recently ran an essay, “New Data Suggest the Coronavirus Isn’t as Deadly as We Thought.” Another WSJ article said, “Do Lockdowns Save Many Lives? In Most Places, the Data Say No.” Yet Newsom says citizens’ efforts to end the shutdown are based on “emotion, not science.” Any thoughts?
Rob McCoy: The empirical data on the virus simply doesn’t merit such draconian actions. In California, Gov. Newsom has based his policies on invalidated medical models that haven’t played out in real life. They have to be challenged. His models about the spread of the virus have been wrong—speculative. The numbers don’t lie. He has no data now to defend what he’s doing—yet we are still locked down.
Our Ventura County authorities are paralyzed against his arbitrary rules, because the County is overruled by the State.
Newsom is providing no explanation about how he is coming to these decisions, although they affect millions of citizens! It is absolutely unconscionable that we are still locked down.
Of course, we all want peace because it’s easier to follow along, but peace isn’t the absence of conflict. Peace requires reaching the truth in the midst of the conflict.
There is often a price to be paid for participating. Listen to these thoughts from Mark Twain:
“In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated, and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then, it costs nothing to be a patriot.”
Fewer than 6% of Americans fought in the Revolutionary War to secure our freedoms. America’s experiment in liberty is only 244 years old—and it was secured by less than 6% of the population! Many people chose to play it safe and remain silent.
The Guardian: The State issued an order declaring churches to be nonessential when they were declaring cannabis dispensaries, liquor stores, bicycle-repair shops, and real-estate agencies as essential.
Rob McCoy: I don’t question that those other services can be labeled as essential. But what I do question, is the State’s refusal to let the church operate. The Constitution gives us freedom of religion. Hold us to the same rules that everyone has to abide by.
I did not put anyone in danger by holding the communion service, as we abided by the same CDC standards that would affect anyone who might have gone that same day to, say, a Trader Joe’s or a Costco, or anywhere else.
Our sanctuary holds 400 seats. We had 10 seats in the sanctuary, no one was ever closer than six feet distance, no one touched, no one hugged, we disinfected every chair when someone got up after taking communion and leaving—I would challenge any entity in Ventura County that is an essential organization to have done it as well as we did it.
When I fight for the church’s rights, I also fight for everyone else’s rights, including the people’s right to assemble to protest against me.
The Guardian: You have held public office, yet your detractors say that allowing a pastor to hold public office is a violation of church and state. Any comments?
Rob McCoy: Our nation’s founders disagreed. Few people know that the very first Speaker of the House was an ordained minister, as were countless other elected officials throughout our history.
The Guardian: How have you and your family dealt with the personal attacks you have received?
Rob McCoy: As for the personal attacks, you have to choose to be offended, and I and my family choose not to be.”
The Guardian: How long can our businesses be shut down before we suffer irreversible damage?
Rob McCoy: If the patient is sick, why would you starve him at the same time? Another way to look at it is that we have put a tourniquet around the patient’s neck in order to stop his nosebleed.
This is not the first time we’ve had problems with California policy. More people have now left the State of California than came to live here during the Dust Bowl. The government burdens are just too high—it’s become almost impossible to raise a family here.
Our community needs and wants to go back to work. So many families are devastated and who are financially ruined. And this isn’t a partisan issue.
This crisis response must involve all Americans who love freedom.